On the rise: Rams' Quinn and a few others

May, 21, 2012
5/21/12
8:42
PM ET
Aldon Smith's 14-sack rookie season and Bruce Irvin's recent first-round selection have obscured another young NFC West pass-rusher with great potential.

Not for long, perhaps.

The St. Louis Rams' Robert Quinn, chosen 14th overall in 2011, showed up Monday among 12 second-year players to watch in 2012, according to Mel Kiper Jr. Insider

"I fully expected Quinn to have a so-so rookie season after sitting out his entire final season at North Carolina," Kiper wrote. "But now comfortable, he could easily double the 5.0 sacks he notched last year. Too much talent to keep down."

Kiper's list features only players coming off less noteworthy rookie seasons.

Quinn had five sacks while playing 52 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps last season. He'll move from a situational role to the starting lineup, a transition signaled by James Hall's release from the team.

Quinn made more of an impact as his rookie season progressed, including on special teams, where his athleticism made Quinn a threat to block punts. Quinn was once the special-teams player of the week in the NFC and later the Rams' special-teams player of the year. He also ranked second on the team with 14 quarterback hits.

Quinn was the only NFC West player to make Kiper's short list. I've put together a few candidates from the rest of the division:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Second-round choice Ryan Williams is the choice for now, with third-rounder Rob Housler also in the conversation. Both appear positioned to make significant strides. Williams, if healthy, will have additional chances to handle the ball. The Cardinals thought Williams was going to be a breakout player last season. A torn patella tendon ended his season. The team figured Housler would need a year of seasoning after making the transition from Florida Atlantic without the benefit of a regular NFL offseason.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Receiver Kris Durham is one obvious candidate after missing all but three games last season with a torn labrum. He'll have a chance to earn a spot in the rotation this season. Four other 2011 picks became starters for Seattle (James Carpenter, John Moffitt, K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman). I removed them from consideration. That left Durham, Byron Maxwell, Pep Levingston and Malcolm Smith among choices still with the team.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Daniel Kilgore's path to the starting job at right guard appeared clearer before tackle Alex Boone became a candidate for the spot. Kilgore, a fifth-round choice from Appalachian State, still might be the best candidate for a breakout season among the 49ers' choices (to the extent a guard can break out, that is). Second-round choice Colin Kaepernick would be a bolder projection. He likely will not play much unless Alex Smith struggles or suffers an injury. This assumes Chris Culliver, a regular contributor as a third-round choice, remains the third corner.

Enjoy your Monday night.

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